DOWAGIAC — Changes are coming to the Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi’s Rodgers Lake campus off Sink Road.
Construction has started on $25 million worth of improvements including a new justice center, an addition to the health services building and new water lines.
Tribal Government Manager Jason Wesaw reported that ground was broken for the new Justice Center in August and work should be done in late 2019. The new 23,000-square-foot facility is more than 10 times the size of the current Tribal Court building and will house both police and court offices.
Wesaw said tribal police services for the Dowagiac area will move from the tribe’s current offices on M-51 south of Dowagiac, while tribal police offices in Hartford, New Buffalo and South Bend will stay in their current locations.
“The Dowagiac justice center will be unique as it will be a law enforcement building on tribal sovereign land,” he said. “It will also give us better space for what we’re doing.”
The building will have a clear line of separation between the police and court sides, including separate entrances for safety. The court side of the building will include a courtroom as well as space and offices for judges, lawyers and administration.
Wesaw said the new courtroom will look different than most.
“It will be circular and emphasize peacemaking as much as justice,” he said. “We’ve been working on how to put our cultural stamp on the building for about three years.”
Under native justice, more emphasis is placed on handling grievances through peacemaking such as handling disputes one-on-one or bringing in a respected elder to settle disputes, Wesaw said.
The tribal court has operated for over 20 years, since the band was officially recognized. It has jurisdiction over incidents occurring on tribal land including the casinos as well as civil matters such as custody, adoptions and marriages. The tribe relies on five judges, including retired Berrien County Judge David Peterson.
Pokagon Health Services opened four years ago to provide a central location where tribal members could go to get medical, dental and behavioral health services. The building is being expanded to not only provide more space for medical services but also a family activities center.
“We now see 2,400 to 2,500 patients and we have people come from all over including Chicago, Grand Rapids and Indianapolis,” Wesaw said. “The building has 23,000 square feet now and we are adding 10,000 square feet more.”
The family activities center will include a gymnasium-style space so that tribal members can hold large events including indoor pow wows on site rather than at an area public school or college, he said. It will also have a new café.
The infrastructure work includes installing a new water system with one main water well and a supplemental backup well and a loop to connect all parts of the Rodgers Lake 160-acre property from Sink Road to Indian Lake Road. Currently, the tribe maintains 32 wells for drinking water and fire suppression.